Sake Etiquette

Are there rules for enjoying sake?

By Fiona Yoshitake   Apr 27, 2017

Overview

Japan is a nation in which courtesy is greatly valued. To make sure that you have a fantastic sake drinking experience with your friends, here are some tips and hints on how to serve and receive sake.

Do's

  1. Do serve others: Treat it as your duty to ensure that your companion's cup never runs dry. When their cup becomes less than a third full, this is the right time to refill. If you should like a refill yourself, instead of refilling your own glass you should refill your companion's, who will then reciprocate. Sake is a social drink and this quirk of serving particularly enforces a close sense of friendship.
  2. Do pour sake with two hands: When pouring out sake from the bottle or tokkuri, make sure to use both hands. This is different from wine, wherein many restaurants you may see your sommelier serving you one handed (which indeed looks very graceful, but would be considered disrespectful when it comes to sake). When serving sake, hold the bottle with your right hand on top, supporting the bottom with your left hand. Make sure not to place your right hand beneath, which is a sign of disrespect.
  3. Do receive sake with two hands: Hold the sake cup in one hand, supporting its bottom with the other. Before your companion refills your cup, take a small sip first. Take another small sip after you have been served, before placing your cup on the table. Of course, once you have received your refill don't forget to return the courtesy!

Dont's

  1. Don't peek into the tokkuri: Looking into the vessel to check how much sake is left is considered very poor manners, and looks pretty impolite.
  2. Don't blend the contents of different tokkuri: Avoid this even if they all contain the same sake. Aside from reasons of etiquette, there is the practical reason that they will be at different temperatures and blending them would therefore affect the taste and aroma.
  3. Don't drink straight from the tokkuri: Even if you are the only drinker, tokkuri are strictly designed for pouring.

One you have familiarized yourself with these tips, you're all set to have a memorable night of camaraderie with your sake drinking companions. Kampai!

Japan Travel Member

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